Kids. Endlessly optimistic, enthusiastically curious - the world’s most uninhibited explorers. Experimentation (and constant failure) is the way we learn the ropes and how we grow into experienced, competent adults who can adequately assess the various risks in our lives. Learning by doing - it’s a fantastic way to go about it. Those of us with younger kids know, however, that a helping hand is often needed to guide and protect during the journey. There are wonderful and scary things out there, and we need to prepare our kiddos for both.
The internet is one of those wonderful and scary things. There can be anything behind that empty Google search bar. And there’s nothing the internet loves more than an uninhibited human who’s willing to share, connect, click, and dive in, safety and privacy thrown to the wind. As a parent, your guiding hand is needed.
For younger kids, it’s most effective to lay out rules and guidelines in a black-and-white manner, and leave little to ambiguity. So let’s take that approach … and list our “Internet Kid Rules”.
Your identity is “all the parts of you, put together like a puzzle”. Your name is part of you. Your birthday is part of you. Where you live is part of you. Whatever you share online is part of you too. When you’re online, only share these things with people you know and trust, like your parents, family and friends. If you think you need to share them with anyone else, ask first. Your parents can help you make good choices about when to share and when not to.
There are many places on the internet where you can sign up for things, by typing in your name, birthday and email address. Some of these are OK, but some of them can steal your identity or be dangerous in other ways. Always ask a parent first if you find something you’d like to sign up for - they’ll help you figure out if it’s safe.
Passwords help to protect you and your identity on the internet. It’s important to have long passwords and not to share them with anyone. Sometimes passwords can be hard to remember, and sometimes it’s annoying to have to type them every time you want to log in. You and your parents can fix this by using a password manager. You'll find out how on Internet Parent Rule #3 in part 2!
There are many people on the internet. Most of them are nice, but some of them are not. Some of them may even be dangerous. Don’t talk to or share your identity with anyone that you don’t know, unless you’ve checked with your parents first. They’ll be able to help you determine if someone is safe to talk to, play games with, have video chats with, or share things with.
Your picture is part of your identity. There are many places on the internet that will let you add a picture of yourself. Instead of adding a picture of your face, upload a picture of your favorite movie character, an object you like, or something that inspires you. This way, you have a great picture, but you’re protecting your identity too.
There are many great apps, tools and games out there on the internet for you to download and use. Some of these are safe, but some of them are dangerous and will try to steal your identity or mess things up on your computer. If you find something you’d like to download, ask your parents first. They’ll be able to help you decide if the app is safe before you use it.
There are great things on the internet to see and learn about, but there are uncomfortable and scary things too. If something you see or someone you talk to makes you feel uncomfortable, let your parents know about it. Your parents are there to help you find the good stuff and avoid the bad stuff.
There’s a lot of information out there on the internet, and a lot to learn. If you’re not sure what something is or what something does, ask. We adults have been using the internet for years and we’re here to show you the ins-and-outs of how things work. And who knows, you might teach us a thing or two as well!
Now that we’ve laid out some ground rules, take some time to read through them with your child, and let the concepts sink in. In the next half of this article, we’ll be approaching internet safety from your side - the guiding parent.